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Cocalico defeated York High, 61-35, in a District 3 Class 5A semifinal, but York High’s coaches and players hope it’s just one step in a process.
Jim Seip, jseip@ydr.com

York High football took the next step in trying to build itself into a regional power, altering its non-conference schedule and picking up District 7 power Pittsburgh Central Catholic for the 2019 season opener. The York City School Board approved the game Wednesday night. 

The Bearcats’ season-opener will kick off at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23 against Pittsburgh Central Catholic at Woodland Hills. The game will be part of the second annual Western Pennsylvania vs. Everyone Football Showcase. Spread out over two days, the first showcase featured six WPIAL teams playing squads from Washington, D.C., Canada and Erie. 

Pittsburgh Central Catholic has won state titles in 2014, 2007, 2004, and they also appeared in the state championship game in 2016 and 2013. 

Two years ago, Pittsburgh Central Catholic lost in the Class 6A playoffs to eventual state champion Pine-Richland. 

The game will be played at the Wolvarena. USA Today named it one of the 10 best high school football stadium’s in the nation in 2001. The stadium, originally built in 1942, seats more than 12,000.  

As part of the showcase, visiting teams like York will receive complimentary hotel rooms, pregame and postgame meals, gift bags and unlimited gaming cards for Dave and Buster’s. 

The change in schedule has been part of a long-term plan for football coach Russ Stoner. The last two seasons York High’s football team has lost in the playoffs to more established District 3 Class 5A programs. After each loss, Stoner pointed out that while it was a successful season he wants the program to improve. The goal is not to just make the playoffs.  

“If you want to be the best team, you have to play the best teams,” Stoner said. 

In order to make the game happen, York will drop longtime foe and former Central Penn League rival Reading in the season opener. The move was necessitated in part by the fact York High struggled to earn a decent district seeding despite back-to-back 9-1 records in the regular season. York High failed to host a playoff game two seasons ago, and this season the Bearcats earned the sixth seed in the district by posting another 9-1 regular season. The only teams ranked lower in the District 3 seedings than York High happened to be four- and five-loss teams. 

These types of scheduling changes could be the new norm. Central York ended its Week 1 rivalry game with West York for similar reasons. A Class 6A school, Central York wanted to pick up a better power ranking by playing a bigger team than Class 4A West York. 

York’s problem was it needed to play teams with better records. Although Reading is Class 6A, the Red Knights have struggled to win games in recent years, and they did not help York in playoff rankings by going just 1-9 last season. This year’s game was a blowout, with York rolling to a 63-16 victory. 

The chance to play in a showcase opened up for York when former York High athletic director Ron Coursey, who now works at Woodland Hills, reached out to the Bearcats to gauge their interest. 

“I just had to evaluate where we stood,” Stoner said. “I think it’s going to be a great experience. The team will travel and spend the night out there and benefit from being in a college atmosphere. 

“We will play at a tradition-rich facility at Woodland Hills, but it’s obviously a tall task.”

Not only is Pittsburgh Central Catholic a Class 6A program from the football-crazed WPIAL, it also has a slew of future college football players. 

All-state selections Brian Dallas and Dom Dodson have graduated, but the Vikings will return Amaar Allen (defensive tackle/end, 6-3, 250 pounds), A’meer Allen (defensive tackle/end, 6-6, 270), Elliot Donald (defensive tackle) and AJ Beatty (defensive end). 

Beatty has 29 NCAA Division I offers, including one from Pitt. Amaar Allen has six Division I scholarship offers, including one from Bowling Green. A’meer Allen has seven Division I scholarship offers, including one from Miami of Ohio. Donald, however, might be the biggest college prospect of them all. He is the nephew of LA Rams tackle and back-to-back NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. 

Just a sophomore, Donald already has nine scholarship offers, including full ride offers from Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Pitt. 

“You have to be smart in making sure you have the right kids that are willing to compete in this type of game,” Stoner said. “I talked to kids, and look we’re ready to go. If we win, that’s obviously huge for our football program. If we keep it close, it’s another win for us.”

Stoner said keeping his program’s traditional schedule wasn’t an option.

“Reading wasn’t getting us any points,” Stoner said. 

Although York High loses some talented seniors, including 3,000-yard rusher and Illinois State commit Dayjure Stewart, the team retains a talented junior class. It will return the majority of its lineman as well as Division I recruit Tobee Stokes

“Pittsburgh Central Catholic presents huge issues for us, but I’m OK with that,” Stoner said. “The question I have is, ‘Can we go out, line up right in front of these guys, and compete with composure and take the next step for this football program?'”

Come August, he’s hoping the answer is yes.